It was difficult, to say the least. And now that I’m finally in a place where I don’t have to see my trauma therapist every two weeks, the future is both scary and exciting.
It started of as gender therapy to help deal with the intrusive thoughts of wanting to cut off my chest every time I had a shower or took off my clothes to go to sleep or got intimate with my partner. Quickly, it evolved into trauma therapy because not only did I experience abuses from multiple people in my life for being transgender, but I also experienced other horrific abuses, simply because I was born.
I have Complex PTSD. I’m also on the autism spectrum. When you combine those two things, with gender dysphoria, things get complicated. Each of those things share some common traits, such as anxiety, OCD, and depression. And though they can share outcomes, treatment is unique depending on the trigger and has to also be tailored for someone who is not neurotypical, beyond the normal way therapy needs to be tailored.
Fortunately, I stumbled across a therapist who not only specializes in gender therapy but who also specializes in trauma therapy because those two often go hand-in-hand.
It was difficult. Especially last year when I was in the hospital every other week because my lupus was trying to kill me. Between having to see some doctor twice a week, multiple ER trips, and trauma therapy every two weeks, it’s a wonder I even made it through it. (For those reading this who are part of my secret homework website, this is why it’s been quiet for so long. Last year was really bad and I had to conserve my energy accordingly.)
But, I made it through. I continued to do the work required. I took every single tool my therapist taught me to deal with the overwhelming panic attacks that occur multiple times throughout the day, thanks to either someone triggering my C-PTSD or my autism, and I applied them.
It was difficult but I did it and that means I’m fucking awesome! For real.
It started off with doing little things. Like the special breathing techniques I was taught. Or, “three things grounding,*” when I would be having an internal meltdown during the “simple” task of grocery shopping.
It then evolved into self-care. Any by self-care, I mean not waiting until things are in crisis before taking a break. But, instead, doing something every single day to take care of myself, and telling that lying voice, “SHUT UP, YOU DIRTY LIAR!” whenever it yells at me, saying, “You’re being a selfish asshole by not putting yourself last in the list of priorities,” even though I still don’t believe it’s a dirty liar. But, it’s not as loud anymore.
It then evolved into BOUNDARIES! They started off small. Then, a huge milestone happened when I called a meeting with some awesome clients to setup some guidelines and boundaries. Apparently, I rocked that meeting and did an amazing job leading it. The entire time, I thought they were going to say, “Sorry. You’re being an unreasonable asshole. We don’t need your services anymore.” It took all of my strength to not cancel the meeting or postpone it. Despite the voice in my head, I did it and they thanked me for it!
Other things happened along the way. When my therapist and I first started the trauma therapy, she tried a somatic approach. This approach went something like, “Recall a mild traumatic experience that triggered you to feel how the experience from the other day caused you to feel.” So, I’d start talking about the traumatic experience. But, I was only ever allowed to say a couple of sentences before we’d stop, do a grounding exercise to bring down my anxiety, and then continue.
The purpose was to basically teach my body how to better process the trauma so that I controlled it and that it didn’t control me.
It just didn’t work for me. Not only does it bugger with my Asperger’s because being interrupted is really not good, causing all sorts of anger and frustration, but it was causing me have night terrors the night before therapy. I’m the type of person who has to logically work through something step-by-step. I’m the type who can always say, “I feel this way because of [insert thing here].” This method was not allowing me to process things in a methodical fashion. As a result, nothing was actually being processed like my therapist intended.
But, I did an amazing thing. I told my therapist, “This is really hurting me. I can’t continue. I don’t even want to be here right now. Can we try something else?”
That was beyond a scary thing to do. And she said, “Thanks for telling me. Let’s try something else!” We then took a cognitive approach and treated all the bad messaging I received in my life as a really bad operating system that you can’t simply update to the newest version because the code is just so very buggy and bad, and the new code is not backwards compatible with the old code. So, instead of a simple upgrade, it involved going through the code line-by-line, seeing what was wrong with it, talking through how it should have been coded, which resulted in new code replacing the bad.
There is still a lot of the really bad operating system that needs to be debugged and rewritten. It will be a very long process, with multiple iterations along the way. But, I now have the basic tools to rationally look at the bullshit, work through the logic, while keeping my anxiety at a 3, instead of living at 7 – 10. If something triggers me, I can say to people, “I can’t talk about this right now. Let me get back to you.”
Other things also helped along the way. I started to write for GeekDad. Some things happened. And people stood up for me. Other things happened. And people stood up for me. Repeated over and over again.
My partner took the day off of work every two weeks to drive four hours round trip to make sure I got the trauma therapy I needed. One of my mild childhood trauma memories revolves around medical neglect from someone who is supposed to care for you and love you. This pattern continued with future intimate partners. Asking him to take time off of work, when one part of my trauma involves my entire life filled with abuses from multiple people surrounding medical things, was scary. But he did it which helped a lot during this process.
Getting to where I am today was a mix of finally finding a therapist who specializes in what has harmed me and giving me amazing tools that suit my needs–not just something generic–an amazing partner, supportive people at GeekDad/GeekMom, and a client that not only tells me over and over again that I am valued but also does things that demonstrates that I am valued. Had I not had those factors outside of therapy that served to reinforce what she was telling me as we debugged my bad programming, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. I’ve had other things reinforce it over the years, but this last year was a lot of extra things coming in at once, instead of a slow trickle.
I’m still entering situations waiting for the bomb to explode. The difference today is that, waiting for the bomb to go off is no longer the most pressing thing.
It’s been four years since I’ve thought about killing myself. That change is thanks to an amazing partner who has made home safe. It’s been six months since I’ve thought about taking a knife to my chest. That change is thanks to therapy and being surrounded by good people. It’s been a couple of hours since I laid down a boundary and said, “I’ll get to that when I can.” That change is thanks to all factors combined.
If you were to ask me two months ago if this was possible, I’m not sure I would have responded with a “yes.” And now, instead of seeing my therapist every two weeks, it is once a month. That is scary. I’m flying. I’m terrified I’m going to crash and burn to the ground, and that all of the positives listed above will reveal themselves to be lies. But that terrified part of me is so very small. And, if it all goes sideways tomorrow, then I just have to call my therapist and someone is there to catch me as a plummet to the earth. In fact, multiple someones are there. For the first time in my life, I honestly believe I can trust in that.
And that is big. Seriously. GO ME!
If you’re thinking of trauma therapy, be assured that it is difficult. It requires a lot of work. It sometimes feels like everything is so much worse before it gets better. But, it is worth it. And find a therapist who is trained in trauma therapy. It’s a very specific form of therapy.
Anyway, we’ll see. But, I am hopeful and that is huge.
*Three Things Grounding
This technique has become my go-to when I’m drowning in anxiety and panic. It’s simple and you can do it anywhere. It not only works to ground me when my PTSD is being triggered by being pulled into the present, but it also helps when it’s my autism being triggered by a noisy world by causing me to focus on something small and quiet.
The TL;DR version: Find three things in your environment, and say three things about them, out loud. Whisper if you have to when in a public space.
I see a couch. It is avocado green. It has a very interesting texture that is a mix of both smooth and rough. It has three sections: Two chaise at each end, and the middle section.
To my left, I see three bookcases. They are dark brown. They are 7.5′ high and look short with my 10′ ceilings. They have six shelves.
In front of me, I see my entertainment center. It has three sections, each holding a different classification of items. It is also dark brown. My life-size Spock cutout is on the top of it because the puppies tried to eat him.